Florida slashes federal aid to schools with mask mandates, defying Biden warning

Gov. DeSantis on vaccine mandates: Florida wants to ‘protect all the jobs’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says his state is trying to recruit law enforcement who are ‘not being treated well’ from other states amid vaccine mandates.

The Florida Department of Education withheld federal funding from two school districts this week because of their masking policies, despite a recent warning from the Biden administration.

School officials at Alachua County said Florida kept more $160,000 from the district because they mandate masks for students, according to POLITICO.

“I am appalled that the state would penalize the district by pulling funding we have not even received,” said Carlee Simon, Alachua County Public Schools superintendent.

(Fox News)

Florida also withheld a total of $526,197 from Broward County school district for its mask mandate.

Monday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Education issued a “cease and desist” complaint saying that the action was unlawful.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., signed an executive order in July that made mask-wearing optional in public schools, despite updated mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends all teachers and students to mask up, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated.

The order has pitted DeSantis against the Biden administration, which has claimed that withholding grants would be a failure to comply with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

Jared M. Ochs, the director of communications for the Florida DOE, told Fox News, “It’s important to remember that locally elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they follow.”

FILE – In this Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021 file photo, Students, some wearing protective masks, arrive for the first day of school at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)

Because of what he described as “their blatant refusal to follow the law,” Ochs said the Florida DOE “has withheld an amount an amount equivalent to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of each school board member until such time as the boards demonstrate compliance, pursuant to State Board of Education Order dated October 12, 2021.”

“Once districts demonstrate compliance with state law, the withheld funds will be disbursed. In the meantime, we will continue forward, lawfully, as we have this entire time,” Ochs added.

Characterizing the school mask mandates as “violations of Florida law,” DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw told Fox News: “The state legislature passed legislation to protect parents’ rights, and forced-masking is prohibited. School districts need to allow parents to opt-out. It’s unfortunate that a few activist school board members made a conscious decision to break the law, entirely for political reasons.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, signs bills revamping Florida’s literacy and early childhood learning in West Miami Middle School in Miami on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.
(Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald via AP)

“Based on the evidence, forced-masking does not benefit students,” Pushaw continued. “There is no statistically significant difference between mask-mandate and mask-optional districts in terms of the rate pediatric COVID cases have declined since school started in August. Why do these political activists still persist in their petty power grabs to overrule parents’ rights?”

“The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day,” DeSantis said in a statement at the end of July. “Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children.”

The superintendents for Alachua County and Broward County school districts did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment in time for publication.

Fox News’ Andrew Mark Miller contributed to this report.

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